Hawks getting it done in every which way
February, 17, 2013
By Scott Powers
CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews would understand critics calling their season’s start lucky if they were scoring goals at some great clip or had some goaltender playing out of his mind.
But that hasn’t been the case.
Why the Blackhawks have registered a point in all 15 of their games, including Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, and have now matched the NHL’s second-longest points streak to start a season can’t be explained in a simple reason or two. The Blackhawks’ success has been due to everything from their penalty kill to their power play, from their first line to their fourth line, from one goaltender to another goaltender, from their youthful players to their veterans, and it has often changed from game to game.
“A lot of people want to look at this streak and just think we’re incredibly hot right now and everything is going our way,” Toews said. “But really, we’re playing a simple game; we’re playing smart; we’re getting good starts to games. Obviously tonight, we don’t want to give up two goals in the third period. But at the same time, we did what we had to do.”
The Blackhawks have picked up points through nearly every game scenario since their season opener last month. They’ve won big. They’ve won narrowly. They’ve played well early and struggled late. They’ve struggled early and played well late. They’ve had a goaltender carry them. They’ve won in regulation, won in overtime and won in the shootout.
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesJonathan Toews scored the Hawks' second goal in Sunday's win.
On Sunday, they excelled early, building a 3-0 lead after two periods, and then saw the Kings rally with two goals in the third period and nearly complete the comeback during a power play for the game’s final 1:01. When the final horn sounded Sunday, the Blackhawks were relieved to be victorious and done with the Kings for the day.
“We had 40 [minutes],” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “They had a great 20, and the clock ran out, which is nice.”
The Blackhawks don’t have the league’s hottest goaltender, but they have two who have been close to that level. Corey Crawford, who has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, and Ray Emery have given the Blackhawks a chance in every game. They have allowed more than two goals in a game just twice this season.
Emery was solid again on Sunday. He made 25 saves, including nine in the final period, and improved to 5-0-0 on the season.
“Goaltending is key,” Quenneville said. “Goaltending is important with everything with your team. The confidence it has, the consistency, not changing how they approach times and games and going into games having consistency and the right demeanor is important. Both guys have done an excellent job.”
The Blackhawks have also received that consistency from nearly every line and their special teams, and that was evident again on Sunday. The fourth line was on the ice for their first goal, the power play accounted for the second goal and a mixture of the first and second lines completed the third goal.
The Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been among the league’s best despite having an off day on Sunday. They killed two out of four power plays on Sunday. The Kings’ two power-play goals were just the fifth and sixth the Blackhawks’ penalty kill has allowed this season.
Even the power play has come around again. After struggling mightily during their six-game road trip, the Blackhawks have scored power-play goals in their last three games.
“If it’s not say [Dave Bolland's second line] or [Andrew Shaw's third line], it’s something else,” Toews said. “Whether it’s the power play or five-on-five, we’re getting contributions from both units, from all four lines. We know as long as we’re playing smart on our side of the puck, we’re working hard enough, those chances are going to come. And when you’re in that, the bounces will go your way every once in a while.”
All in all, the Blackhawks are enjoying themselves.
“We’re having fun,” Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “Whatever it takes, I guess is why we’re standing here, and we’re having a fun time doing it.”
Quenneville said, “Well, we’re happy. We love our start. It’s a compliment to the way the guys approached the start of the year, to the way they’ve been approaching every game. They’ve been real consistent and not getting too excited about what we’ve accomplished and where we’re at. I think the focus should continue.”
And now the Blackhawks are coming up on history. They have a chance to tie the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks for the best start to a season with points in 16 consecutive games.
To accomplish that, the Blackhawks will have to record a point against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on Tuesday. Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp found that to be fitting.
“Just throw some more whatever, incentive into the game,” Sharp said. “It seems like it’s something new whenever we play those guys. So it’s always a fun atmosphere, especially in this building.”